Quintan Wiktorowicz was researching radical recruitment when he observed that Jihadi recruits followed a pattern of conversion that he called “the funnel.” His research has been one of the most useful models for me in understanding high-identity conversion. I cannot post his work on this blog because of copyright, but you can download a summary of his work by following this link. Watch for Appendix A and Wiktorowicz’s definitions. I have tons more of his work, but I doubt you have time to read it, so you may want to stick to my summary below.

What Wiktorowicz stated was that people find a way to integrate all their values and beliefs so as to “make sense” of their world and thus obtain cognitive balance.  But then something significant can happen in people’s lives that causes a “belief disruption” where their values and beliefs are no longer in alignment, and thus life does not “make sense.” This is what Wiktorowicz calls a “Exogenous Condition.” This is a PhD term meaning something happened to you. I like to use the term “belief disruption.” It is less academia speak.

At this point Wiktorowicz argues that seekers enter a stage in which they have a “cognitive opening” and are willing to consider other ideas that help them “make sense” of their world again. This will naturally put people into an “information seeking” mode. Most often this is passive seeking – “keeping their ears open to new information,” but it could also be more intentional seeking by doing things such as a Google search, key worded to their issue. Since we are interested in people who desire religious change, we are only going to be concerned with people who will move to the “religious seeking” stage.

In the religious seeking stage, people generally shift from passive seeking to becoming active seekers. This is important. Very Important. In passive seeking people are willing to consider new ideas. In active religious seeking they are engaging in their spiritual pathway. If people are passive, we as strategists need to apply Donald Shaw’s Agenda Setting theories and thus “not tell them what to think, but what to think about.” This can be done in many ways including pushing out small “bites” of media that relate to their persona/spiritual pathway.

When people have made the shift to spiritual seeking we need to tease out questions that encourage them to shift from being passive to becoming actively engaged. If we are “active” (maybe even aggressive) when they are passive, or passive when they are active (interested), then we will miss-fire on an opportunity. When I look at large data sets, I see major drop offs of seekers at these two stages: information seeking and religious seeking. I suspect the cause is that we are too passive or too active for the seeker at their seeking stage. A sound media strategy can address this problem.

Retuning to Wiktorowicz’s funnel, the seeker has now obtained new religious information. Keep in mind that their religious journey began when their world did not “make sense.” The type of information they receive at this point will be important to their spiritual journey. Returning to the persona blog, we need to give the seeker only information that is important to their pathway.

In this stage in the seeker’s pathway, the seeker will need to make an effort to integrate the new information into their previous belief system through what Wiktorowicz calls “identity alignment.” Remember Fishbein? This is done through “beliefs.” And remember, beliefs will be scaled from weak to strong as people try to make sense of these new ideas. But to help belief grow stronger, we need to help the person find trusted reference group members who will support their emerging belief. This stage is what Wiktorowicz called “socialization.” The “identity alignment” and “socialization” steps are incorporated into the Fishbein model.

I have found that the teaching from the parable of the sower from Matthew 13 shines a bright light on Wiktorowicz’s model, or visa versa. I will pick this up on next week, but I have heard several sermons on this passage that note that the problem is with soil maintenance. Sermons discuss we  workers to plough the field, take out rocks, and pull weeds before we plant the gospel seed.

As a sneak peak – the problem is with the sower.

But more on this next week.

This article is part of a series, check out the other articles here.